Acronyms and backronyms

An acronym is an abbreviation that can be read out like a word. Of course, you need to know that before you pronounce it. I had to get used to the way the Germans pronounce ‘VIPs’ (I say vee-eye-pees).

Anyway, here’s an acronym I missed out on:

The USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001)

Wikipedia says:

bq. The USA PATRIOT Act is commonly referred to by its acronym (though it is an obvious backronym) as the USA PATRIOT Act, PATRIOT Act, or Patriot Act.

(via Translate This!)

6 thoughts on “Acronyms and backronyms

  1. Hm, I say vee-eye-pee instead of “wip” also, but where does one draw the line?

    I mean, some acronyms are not pronouncable unless you spell them out (think PCMCIA or USSR, for lack of a better example) while other become “words” real quick: Like AIDS, or RADAR. Is ist just because the look look like “words”?

  2. I looked at David Crystal (Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language). He says some linguists distinguish between acronyms and initialisms, initialisms being ones like BBC, DJ, MP, EEC, e.g. and USA, also called alphabetisms. Some just call both acronyms.
    Then there are clippings (ad and phone: part of a word used for the whole) and blends (brunch: made out of the shortened forms of other words).

  3. Some don’t seem pronounceable at first but are pronounced anyway, like Tom DeLay’s fundraising committee TRMPAC (“Trimpack”), or SQL (“Sequel”) etc. I think there is a tendency (at least here) to make it a prounounceable word even if it means inserting vowels that aren’t there.

  4. Margaret, this is a fascinating subject.

    “The history of SQL and relational databases traces back to E.F. Codd, an IBM researcher who first published an article on the relational database idea in June 1970. Codd’s article started a flurry of research, including a major project at IBM. Part of this project was a database query language named SEQUEL, an acronym for Structured English Query Language. The name was later changed to SQL for legal reasons, but many people still pronounce it SEQUEL to this day.”


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